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As sharp as they get . . .Emma Shaw enjoys competing in wood chopping. PHOTO: RACHEL MACDONALD

By Rachel Macdonald

By day, and often by night, Emma Shaw is a nurse in Christchurch Hospital’s emergency department.

In her down-time, she can be found splitting wood; standing on the log, with a very shiny and razor-sharp axe in her hands.

Emma is a competitive wood chopper, following in the footsteps of those who pioneered the art in Australia and took it to the world.

Now a sport, it was most recently exhibited in North Canterbury at the Oxford A&P Show, where Emma stepped up to do her thing.

“My partner, Reuben, has been a competitive wood chopper since he was a teenager. His father also still competes,” she says.

“I spent two years following Reuben around the A&P show circuit, and then last November I thought I’d give it a go.

“I hated splitting firewood when I was growing up, so I was surprised to find I really enjoy doing it in the competition ring.

“It’s great for your fitness and balance, and it’s seriously technical. You’ve got to think about your angles, how you’re holding your axe, and your foot placement (she competes in the underhand class), which makes it hugely mentally challenging as well.”

Emma says she was always into sports at school and university. She swam, played rugby and competed in athletics.

After a stint working as a midwife in the outback of Australia, she came back to New Zealand to study for a concurrent Masters in Health Science and Bachelor of Nursing. She met Reuben through friends.

“At the moment, it’s a hobby, but we’ll see where it leads,” she says.

“It’s also great that I can borrow axes that Reuben has outgrown, so I don’t have the expense of having to buy my own.”

And that can get pretty costly, according to other competitors in the ring at last Saturday’s Oxford show. Most use Tuatahi saws and axes, hand-made in Masterton.

A top-quality racing axe from Tuatahi can cost up to $600, while a racing saw comes in at about $2500. These are competition-grade tools made to last, which is fortunate because there is also a significant waiting list, according to those about to take their turn on the weekend.

Apart from the axe itself andthe cost of wood to practise on, there are also the little-seen safety measures, Emma says.

“Beginners, by regulation, have to wear chain-mesh socks. They’re kind of like the gloves worn by butchers, but they go under our sneakers.”

That makes sense, given that even world champions, such as Australia’s Kerry Head, have been know to get it wrong and end up in hospital with nasty foot injuries.

“That said, those kinds of accidents are not common,” says Emma, with her nursing hat on. “It’s about building an experience base where you’re
skilful and careful.

“And it’s a really supportive competitor community, with everyone ready and happy to offer advice.”